Germain tried to forget, too, by plunging into his work again; but he became so melancholy and so absent-minded that everybody noticed it. He did not speak to little Marie, he did not even look at her; and yet, if any one had asked him in which pasture she was, or in what direction she had gone, there was not an hour in the day when he could not have told if he had chosen to reply. He had not dared ask his people to take her on at the farm during the winter, and yet he was well aware that she must be suffering from poverty. But she was not suffering, and Mere Guillette could never understand why her little store of wood never grew less, and how her shed was always filled in the morning when she had left it almost empty the night before. It was the same with the wheat and potatoes. Some one came through the window in the loft, and emptied a bag on the floor without waking anybody or leaving any tracks. The old woman was anxious and rejoiced at the same time; she bade her daughter not mention the matter, saying that if people knew what was happening in her house they would take her for a witch. She really believed that the devil had a hand in it, but she was by no means eager to fall out with him by calling upon the cure to exorcise him from her house; she said to herself that it would be time to do that when Satan came and demanded her soul in exchange for his benefactions.
Little Marie had a clearer idea of the truth, but she dared not speak to Germain for fear that he would recur to his idea of marriage, and she pretended when with him to notice nothing.
One day, Mere Maurice, being alone in the orchard with Germain, said to him affectionately: “My poor son, I don’t think you’re well. You don’t eat as much as usual, you never laugh, and you talk less and less. Has any one in the house, have we ourselves wounded you, without meaning to do it or knowing that we had done it?”
“No, mother,” replied Germain, “you have always been as kind to me as the mother who brought me into the world, and I should be an ungrateful fellow if I complained of you, or your husband, or any one in the house.”
“In that case, my child, it must be that your grief for your wife’s death has come back. Instead of lessening with time, your loneliness grows worse, and you absolutely must do what your father-in-law very wisely advised, you must marry again.”
“Yes, mother, that would be my idea, too; but the women you advised me to seek don’t suit me. When I see them, instead of forgetting Catherine, I think of her all the more.”
“The trouble apparently is, Germain, that we haven’t succeeded in divining your taste. So you must help us by telling us the truth. Doubtless there’s a woman somewhere who was made for you, for the good Lord doesn’t make anybody without putting by his happiness for him in somebody else. So if you know where to go for the wife you need, go and get her; and whether she’s pretty or ugly, young or old, rich or poor, we have made up our minds, my old man and I, to give our consent; for we’re tired of seeing you so sad, and we can’t live at peace if you are not.”